Sunday, August 26, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: Unmasking M.A.S.K.

During the 1980s, the two crown jewels of kidvid were Hasbro's Transformers and G.I. Joe, both of which found a sweet spot of cultural awareness allowing them to branch out into all manner of other merchandising. Given that, it's no wonder that other toymakers were constantly on the hunt for new intellectual property in that vein. And while the decade is littered with abandoned also-rans that tried and failed to capture some of that mojo, one property that found a measure of success is M.A.S.K., unleashed by Kenner in 1985:

I have to admit, just watching those commercials takes me back. These were some pretty awesome toys. The figures were big enough to retain some degree of poseability and playability, while being small enough that the various vehicles weren't unwieldy or oppressively expensive. It really was a perfect fusion of the things that made both the Joe and Transformers lines work so well.

Standing for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (because "command" is spelled with a "K"...), M.A.S.K. was a group of secret operatives wearing high tech masks and piloting souped up vehicles that turn into...other vehicles (so, a bike becomes a helicopter, a car becomes a boat, etc.). Led by Matt Trakker, whose Camaro turned into a plane, they squared off with the agents of V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious, Evil Network Of Mayhem -- they're not just vicious, they're evil too!), headed up by portly baddy Miles Mayhem (who, with a name like that, was pretty much destined to be a bad guy).

The animated show, a necessary component of any big toy push, launched in fall of '85, the same year as the toys, and was produced by notorious crap-mavens DiC, though this was a little higher up on the qualitative ladder than some of their other output. The initial sixty-five episode season first aired on cable's USA network before making the jump to weekday afternoon syndication, and while the day-in, day-out was mostly run-of-the-mill good guy/bad guy stuff, M.A.S.K. did manage to distinguish itself with an awesomely cheese-tastic theme song that could only have come out of the '80s:


Although it ran an additional ten episode second season that, in a bizarre bit of mid-run retooling, completely shifted the premise of the series and turned into a Wacky Races-style caper show, the animated series ended its run in 1986. The toys lasted another couple of years  before the line ended in 1988. By the turn of the decade, M.A.S.K. was off the pop culture radar, and though Matt Trakker reappeared a few years ago in 2008 as part of the G.I. Joe line (Kenner had been acquired by Hasbro in the interim), it's pretty much remained in limbo ever since.

Like most '80s properties, there's occasional chatter about a revival being in the pipeline, but I doubt very much that talk will come to anything. Last year, Shout! Factory put out a set of the complete series on DVD, which I hungrily scooped up. I'd love to be able to offer some kind of a status update on how it holds up twenty-five years after the fact, but it's sat on my shelf unopened since pretty much the moment it arrived last August. Although, after writing this piece, maybe I'll finally tear off the plastic and pop it in!

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